Firebrand Thai monk charged with amulet fraud

Thai Buddhist monk Luang Pu Buddha Issara being escorted by police officers at the criminal court in Bangkok on Thursday. He was charged over the sale of amulets with fake royal seals and has been defrocked, said Thai police.
Thai Buddhist monk Luang Pu Buddha Issara being escorted by police officers at the criminal court in Bangkok on Thursday. He was charged over the sale of amulets with fake royal seals and has been defrocked, said Thai police.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK • A firebrand Buddhist monk has been defrocked after being charged over the sale of amulets with fake royal seals, Thai police said yesterday, a dramatic fall from grace for a cleric who helped lead protests that toppled the former government.

The junta that seized power in 2014 after those protests has, in recent months, taken a strong line with Thailand's powerful Buddhist clergy after several major financial scandals.

However, the arrest of Luang Pu Buddha Issara, who ran a key Bangkok protest camp in the months before the coup, has surprised a public used to the monk's pro-junta diatribes.

He was charged with faking endorsements by revered late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of sacred amulets he was selling online, according to Major-General Maitri Chimcherd, commander of the Crime Suppression Division.

"The court denied his bail request," Maj-Gen Maitri said, adding that he was defrocked.

The complaint emerged after a collector of amulets, highly prized as lucky charms in Thailand, found that the monk's website was selling items purporting to have palace support. "When I checked on the website, there was no evidence of official permission to use royal initials," Mr Vichai Prasertsudsiri said.

Misappropriating the palace name is a dangerous game in Thailand, where the monarchy is shielded by one of the world's strictest lese majeste laws.

Issara avoided the royal defamation charge, but still could face a maximum 20 years in jail under the forgery allegation.

Monks are formally outlawed from political roles but for several years, Issara straddled the religious and the secular sphere as a hardline critic of the former government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Firebrand Thai monk charged with amulet fraud'. Print Edition | Subscribe